Softening Our Hearts
Some old men came to see Abba Poemen, and said to him: Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake? The old man said to them: Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.
With this story, legalism and false asceticism pale in the light of greater virtue. What Abba Poemen calls for here is the godliness of mercy and compassion and forgiveness, the very holiness that pious practices are meant to sow in us, and that rigidity for its own sake can never substitute. Nor does our failure to be unwaveringly faithful to the practice of them count against the value of those whose hearts are right even when their knees are weak. The number of people who have made Lenten resolutions over the centuries and then, in despair of perfection, gave up doing them after they broke them once, should have known Abba Poemen.
(Reflections are provided each week by a member of the congregation.)